Oregon’s child welfare director appointed to new job by the Biden Administration

Rebecca Jones Gaston, hired two years ago, is in the midst of trying to transform the troubled agency

By: - November 18, 2021 8:40 am
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Rebecca Jones Gaston, Oregon’s child welfare director, just received a big promotion: The Biden administration picked her to be its commissioner overseeing federal social services for children.

The nomination comes two years after Jones Gaston took the reins at Oregon’s Child Welfare Division, a troubled agency with unstable management. She was the seventh division chief or interim leader in about five years. 

The Oregon Department of Human Services announced the change Wednesday.

In 2018, Secretary of State auditors slammed the agency as having “chronic and systemic management shortcomings” and failing to protect vulnerable children. A 2020 review of its case management system called it “adequate,” saying the agency still needed to improve.

Rebecca Jones Gaston
Rebecca Jones Gaston (Human Services Department)

Last year, Jones Gaston outlined her vision for transforming the agency, calling for a reduction of the number of children in foster care by focusing on helping families stay together. The plan said that “white supremacy and systemic racism” are deeply embedded in child welfare systems, putting too many children of color in the foster system.

“We all know that infants, children, adolescents and young adults do best growing up in a family that can provide love, support, life-long learning, shared values and important memories,” she wrote.

The state Department of Human Services said in a statement she has stabilized the child welfare division and reduced the number of children in foster care by about 20% since becoming director. She has also eliminated the use of out-of-state residential treatment facilities, which came under fire in 2019 after cases of abuse.

Fariborz Pakseresht, director of the Human Services Department, said in a statement that Jones Gaston navigated the agency through challenging times while developing a solid foundation for the future.

“Oregon is in a good position to continue the momentum and improve well-being for all children and families served by our child welfare system,” Pakseresht said.

Jones Gaston has worked in human services and child welfare for more than 24 years as a social worker, advocate, therapist, consultant and administrator. Before joining the agency, she was executive director of the Social Services Administration at the Maryland Department of Human Services. 

She was also a director with Casey Family Programs, and was the national campaign director for a program aimed at increasing the number of foster and adoptive families.

Jones Gaston said in a statement that she was grateful to work in Oregon for two years. “Oregon will always hold a special place in my heart, and I look forward to bringing Oregon’s experience in child welfare into the national conversation,” Jones Gaston said in a statement.

Gov. Kate Brown applauded Jones Gaston for her work. “Rebecca’s federal nomination is a testament to the good work happening in Oregon,” Brown said. “I congratulate Rebecca on her nomination and am pleased that children and families across the country now will benefit from her leadership.”

Her appointment has to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The Human Services Department said it will announce a leadership transition plan in coming weeks.

 

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Lynne Terry
Lynne Terry

Lynne Terry has more than 30 years of journalism experience, including a recent stint as editor of The Lund Report, a highly regarded health news site. She reported on health and food safety in her 18 years at The Oregonian, was a senior producer at Oregon Public Broadcasting and Paris correspondent for National Public Radio for nine years. She has won state, regional and national awards, including a National Headliner Award for a long-term care facility story and a top award from the National Association of Health Care Journalists for an investigation into government failures to protect the public from repeated salmonella outbreaks. She loves to cook and entertain, speaks French and is learning Portuguese.

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